5 Tips for Better Ears

Written by Alex Reid
Posted August 29, 2014

“What?”

“WHAT?”

“Say again? I didn't catch that.”

We all know that person — or maybe it's you...

The person who asks you to repeat yourself five or six times. The one who smiles and nods at you, even though you're pretty sure they didn't hear a word of what you just said.

While we're primarily creatures of sight, there's no denying the importance of hearing in our lives — especially when it comes to our social lives.

If you're going to avoid becoming the person who requires others to repeat themselves for (and be annoyed with!) you, then you really need to learn to take care of your ears right now.

Here are five tips that will help you do just that...

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1) Make liberal use of ear plugs/ protective ear muffs

Your ears weren't meant to be exposed to the loud sound of lawn mowers for hours at a time.

You see, your inner ear is lined with sensitive hairs which translate sounds into nerve signals. These nerve signals are then sent to your brain, which translates the signal into something you can understand (all this happens in a fraction of a second).

Loud noises like lawn mowers and jackhammers can damage these cells — and these cells do not grow back. Once you lose them, they're gone for good.

So the next time you're at a concert, loud movie, doing yard work, or working with power tools (to name a few examples), make sure you keep your ears covered or plugged.

Similarly...

2) Be careful with headphones/TVs/stereos

There is no excuse for not following this tip — it's probably the one over which you have the most control. The “volume down” knob only takes the tap of your finger.

Extended exposure to loud noises from your home electronics can be more damaging to your sensitive ear cells than standing next to a chainsaw or motorcycle.

decibel chart

There's absolutely no need to have your headphones or car stereo loud enough that other people can hear it, unless you simply want to be deaf.

3) Be careful using cotton swabs

More popularly known around my house as “Q-Tips”, these things are a post-shower ritual for many.

While they're a great cure for an itchy ear, they can do some damage when used incorrectly.

“Do not insert swab into ear canal” is probably the most ignored safety warning ever — which is a shame.

The ever present danger of puncturing your ear drum with a cotton swab is very real. I've known a couple people who have done this, and the HBO show Girls even had a whole episode revolve around it.

You can insist that you're in complete control, but all it takes is one moment of inattention — a cat weaving between your legs, a child running through the house, a slip of the hand — to go from 0 to PAIN in the fraction of a second.

The other problem with cotton swabs is that we're often using them to remove ear wax. While this may not sound like a problem, consider this fact:1

“Basically, it [ear wax] is a protective barrier,” says [ear specialist Dr.] Fenton, stopping dirt, microbes, insects and water from making their way into the middle or inner chambers of the ear.

“It can be a bit of a lubricant for the skin — it keeps (the ears) from getting too dry and the skin from getting scaly and itchy — and can protect against fungus and bacterial infections in the ear canal,” he says.

In addition to removing this ear-protective substance, using cotton swabs can also push the ear wax deeper in the ear and compact it, which will cause hearing problems and can lead to further problems with your ears.

So keep those q-tips out of your ear canals!

4) Be careful diving/swimming, and airplanes...

A good friend of mine learned the hard way about how damaging water pressure can be.

He was planning on taking a trip to New Zealand in November, and in preparation he dropped about $500 and a few days worth of time on SCUBA lessons.

Unfortunately he didn't equalize the pressure in his ears like he was supposed to on his last dive, and ended up with a painful pressure in his head. He went to the doctor who prescribed him painkillers, antibiotics, and then told him he should never dive again.

While that was an unfortunate waste of time and money, the fact is he got off rather light.

People have been known to pop ear drums and do long-term hearing damage when they dive too deep without the proper training. If you've swam to the bottom of a pool, you know how much pressure there is on your ears in even just 10 feet of water.

So unless you know how to equalize the pressure in your ears as you dive, then don't dive any farther than is comfortable for your ears.

You may not know it, but you experience similar compression on your ear drums when you descend altitude quickly — like landing in an airplane.

5) Be on the lookout for “swimmer's ear”

As enjoyable as it is on a hot summer day, taking a dive in your local pool or pond isn't without its risks.

The narrow tube that is your ear canal makes a great bacteria breeding ground when it's been recently soaked with pool or pond water.

The symptoms of this kind of ear infection are:2

Mild signs and symptoms

  • Itching in your ear canal
  • Slight redness inside your ear
  • Mild discomfort that's made worse by pulling on your outer ear (pinna, or auricle) or pushing on the little "bump" (tragus) in front of your ear
  • Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid

Moderate progression

  • More intense itching
  • Increasing pain
  • More extensive redness in your ear
  • Excessive fluid drainage
  • Discharge of pus
  • Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid, and debris
  • Decreased or muffled hearing

Advanced progression

  • Severe pain that may radiate to your face, neck, or the side of your head
  • Complete blockage of your ear canal
  • Redness or swelling of your outer ear
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck
  • Fever

You can decrease your risk of developing swimmer's ear by swimming only in chlorinated pools, and wearing ear plugs. Some people will also place rubbing alcohol in their ears after they swim to kill any bacteria that may have made it in there and to help dry out the ears.

I'll personally still swim in ponds and such, but you'll have to determine your risk tolerance for yourself.

I know you don't want to be the buzzkill at the party who is shouting at everybody to speak up — so remember to take care of your ears!

Yours in health,

ken_signature

Ken Swearengen

Notes:

[1] http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2014/04/14/why_you_need_to_stop_cleaning_your_ears_with_cotton_swabs.html

[2] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swimmers-ear/basics/symptoms/con-20014723

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